I want to commend Attorney General Schneiderman and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge James Hayes and their personnel for their outstanding work on this important case. I also want to thank our Operation Sentry partners, including the State Police of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, and of course our own Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, the lead investigator on the case Detective Sean Foley, along with Intelligence Research Specialists from the NYPD Intelligence Division.
The core mission of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division since it was reconstituted in 2002 has been to prevent another terrorist attack against New York City. And so far, so good. We haven’t been successfully attacked since 9/11. But it’s not for the lack of trying. The terrorists keep coming back. We have thwarted multiple plots against the city through a combination of efforts by our Intelligence Division, through joint efforts with our federal partners and intelligence agencies overseas, and sometimes, we’ve just been lucky.
This case started because we were being vigilant about terrorism. Through combined efforts of detectives and intelligence analysts, we discovered that individuals who were on our radar for links to known terrorists were engaged in a massive raid on the New York Treasury in the form of cigarette tax avoidance. The association of some of the suspects in this case to Ari Halberstam’s killer, the “Blind Sheik,” and a top Hamas official concerned us gravely.
Take, for example, Yousef Odeh. Earlier this year, he said he had sold 15,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes worth about $780,000 to three customers alone. Odeh also had a business selling baby formula. And one of his investors in the 1990s was Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheikh convicted in the plot to bomb a number of New York City landmarks. Odeh also had personal and financial ties to Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who served as spokesman for the Blind Sheikh during the 1995 landmarks trial, and who had conveyed the Sheikh’s messages to his followers in Egypt and Afghanistan.
According to transcripts of his own 2004 trial, Sattar stated that he invested $10,000 of the Blind Sheikh’s money in Odeh’s baby formula business and was in phone contact with Odeh. In that trial, it was also alleged that Sattar used Odeh’s phone to receive sensitive calls from a fugitive leader of the extremist Egyptian Islamic Group shortly to discuss what threats they should make against the United States government in the wake of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Sattar, who himself worked with Odeh in the baby formula business, was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy to kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country and for soliciting crimes of violence.
Another of the suspects arrested yesterday was Muaffaq Askar. Like Odeh, Askar was one of the untaxed cigarette distributors in this case with links to a known terrorist. He was the confidant of Rashid Baz, the Lebanese immigrant who fired on a van full of Hasidic students on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, killing 16-year-old Ari Halberstam. Baz, who was convicted and sentenced to 141 years, referred to Askar as his “Palestinian uncle.”
Mohannad Seif is a sub-distributor in this case who sold untaxed cigarettes directly to bodegas and other small retailers. Seif was of interest to the NYPD because of previous intelligence reporting, and because we believe that he lived for some time in the same three-story Brooklyn walk-up occupied by Nasser al-Khatib, the personal secretary to Mousa Abu Marzouk. Marzouk was the de facto leader of Hamas in the late-1980s and early-1990s and a central fundraiser for the organization in the United States. Marzouk was deported in 1997 and remains a top Hamas official in Egypt.
While it hasn’t been established yet where the illicit proceeds in this case ended up, we’re concerned because similar schemes have been used in the past to help fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Our federal partners continue to investigate the money trail. Meanwhile, we’ve arrested the principals in this massive scheme and the hemorrhaging of tax revenues they caused.
We have a responsibility both to protect the taxpayer and to make certain we are neither targeted nor exploited by terrorists. We’ve couldn’t have made this case without the dedication and skill of the people assembled before you, and others who could not be here. Again, my thanks to them all.